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‘Slumdog’ Oscar-Winner Rahman’s Music Redeems ‘Rockstar’: Review

India may not be the land of Mick Jagger, but it’s home to A.R. Rahman, who bagged the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire’s score and who saves the otherwise lackluster movie “Rockstar.”

Don’t expect either the plot of a typical musical biopic like “Walk the Line,” or the humorous meditation on the nature of fame and fandom in “Almost Famous.” This is classic Bollywood fare: a melodramatic love story filmed in beautiful locations and held together by grand songs, though mercifully without silly dance routines or actors running around trees, singing.

Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood’s latest young heartthrob, plays Janardan, an aspiring musician who is advised that every artist must experience heartbreak to become great.

In his search for love and loss, he meets and singularly fails to woo debutante Heer (Nargis Fakhri), with the two instead becoming buddies who knock back shots of country liquor and watch a soft-porn classic in a seedy New Delhi cinema.

Heer is soon whisked off to an arranged marriage abroad, thus providing Janardan with the desired heartbreak and record deal, because, of course, the friends have fallen in love.

As rebellious rockstar Jordan, Janardan’s shenanigans receive media attention on a par with Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan, while Heer walks the cobbled streets of Prague, pining for him. That is until Jordan lands in the European city and the couple begin an affair. The rest of the movie deals with the results of their actions.

Lovers Fizzle

The film is less concerned with the hero’s rise to fame as with his love life. Its main failing is that Imtiaz Ali’s writing and direction are too tame to convey the dangerous and self-destructive passion between the leads. The story demands lovers who blaze in each other’s presence. Ali’s script delivers two characters who take turns being petulant and depressed.

His casting of Fakhri, a U.S. fashion model, is unfathomable. Ali’s films are among the few in male-dominated Bollywood that feature strong female leads who do more than look good in the arms of the hero. And the role of Heer offers a chance to showcase the skills of a capable actress. Fakhri blows it with a cringe-inducing performance. She seems clueless about dialog delivery and intonation, twisting and pouting her face and lips into expressions that would scare a vampire squid.

Kapoor, scion of the legendary Bollywood family, does well to convey the emotional turmoil wracking Jordan. He needs to pick stronger scripts.

So it’s left to Rahman to redeem the movie with a soundtrack and score that is arguably his best and most diverse since “Dil Se..” more than a decade ago. Credit must also go to Mohit Chauhan, whose voice gives life to almost all the songs, ranging from catchy rock tunes and Indian folk music to soulful and dark sufi numbers and romantic ballads.

Let the music and gorgeous backdrops of old Delhi, Kashmir and Prague wash over you to soothe the heartbreak of the underwhelming writing and Fakhri’s failure. Or buy the CD.

Rating: **½.

“Rockstar” is released in India and in select theaters worldwide including New York, London and Singapore on Friday. Information: http://www.rockstarthefilm.com/

What the Stars Mean:
****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Pratish Narayanan writes about Indian cinema for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Pratish Narayanan in Mumbai at pnarayanan9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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